Earlier this year, the New York Times profiled three women entrepreneurs who were raising companies and kids at the same time. I know first-hand that two of the hardest things you can ever do are start a business and raise children. Over the past 15 years, I’ve done both at the same time, with some degree of success and, I like to think, with minimal hair loss.
I didn’t really think it through at the time. Leaving a comfortable corporate job. Starting a business with no real entrepreneurial experience. Having three kids within five years. And all with no role model as crazy as me to share best practices and a soft shoulder.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was learning valuable lessons, in parallel. What worked for the business part of my life came in mighty handy with the parenting part of my life, and vice versa. Here are some of my “a-ha” moments:
Adapt. Just when you have a feeding schedule figured out and think this “parenting thing” is no sweat, your baby will hit a growth spurt and throw life all out of whack. Owning a business is no different: It’s a constant stream of critical, gut-wrenching, on-the-fly decision-making that can make you think this “leadership stuff” is nuts. One day the perfect nanny is taking care of your most precious assets, and the next, she’s resigned and you’re lining up grandparents or a kindly neighbor. Similarly, my clients and staff throw me daily curveballs. Every change requires research and soul-searching, often followed by a bit of second-guessing. Yet decisions are made and everyone deals with it.
Invest. Helping customers and raising children can be both thankless and painful at times. The real satisfaction and reward comes after the energy and effort have been invested. Driving kids to martial arts classes and helping them with their homework is all well and good. Late-night chats about the latest teen drama, or being a driver for a field trip--and getting to listen to the back-seat chatter--is even better. Customers want the same attention and care. Being a trusted advisor in the good times and in the bad result in deep and meaningful long-term relationships that bring tremendous gifts and pay long-term dividends.
Play nice. Playing fair and telling the truth apply to both business and to life. There will always be customers who want you to compromise your values. Run your business the way you want your children to live their lives--with honesty and integrity.
Wants versus needs. All children want cookies and soda, but good parents know that sweet treats need to be balanced with healthy foods that help them grow. Customers think they want a lot of things as well, and sometimes they don’t see the best solution. That’s where you come in. Be a valued partner who has their back, whom they can rely on to grow with them. You can’t be all things to everybody. It may not be for you to deliver the junk. Sometimes you can find a better solution and sometimes you just have to say no.
Accountability. A good parent doesn’t let a teen stay home from school after he or she goofed off all weekend and didn’t get the school project done on time. It’s called tough love. Employees also need to be held accountable for deadlines and promises. If they fall short, they must own it and learn from their mistakes. Accountability is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself, your team, and your children.
Reinvent yourself. Children live in a constantly-changing environment. Every few years they meet new classmates, take on new subjects and attend a new school. They are always being pushed outside their comfort zone. But as adults, most of us are content to hunker down in a safe job or to run a stagnant business. Instead, we need to keep learning as well. To thrive in business, you need to stay ahead of the curve, and invest in new skills and knowledge that will propel you in the future. Be courageous. Be open to a richer, fuller, more prosperous life. And show your children you are never too old to do something new.
Bring joy (or play). There’s nothing as sweet as the sound of a baby laughing or breathing deeply while asleep. And there is so much more to life than generating revenue or counting inventory. Take time to make life joyful with your family, by yourself, and with your team.